Although it would seem logical that parents and education officials should be allies in the fight to offer kids the best quality education, in reality, the two camps often find themselves on different sides. This is especially pronounced in cases of special needs students, whose parents often feel that in the service of thrift, officials balk at offering — and paying for — top-of-the-line care, and then refuse to reimburse families that seek solutions outside the public school system.
Such is the case of Robert Bogan, a Tampa, Florida resident who sued his local school district after it refused to reimburse him for placing his special needs daughter in a private residential school in Polk County. In a behind-closed-doors meeting school board members were recorded talking about the lawsuit with the district's attorney, attempting to decide if paying off Bogan would be cheaper in the long run than attempting to fight the lawsuit.
According to a transcript of the meeting, board members and their lawyer debated whether it would cost more to litigate or settle, knowing Bogan could sue again for future years. They speculated Bogan wanted his daughter, now 18, out of the house. They called him a bully.
Being labeled a bully or a troublemaker seems to be a common lot of parents who believe they are doing nothing more than making sure that their kids receive the best care. Mark Kamleiter, a St. Petersburg lawyer, understands that parents who are continuously frustrated in their efforts to get their kids in the best possible situation "get into fight mode," and even when education officials are ready to meet parents half way, turning off this state of mind becomes difficult.
Bogan says that "the fight mode" is exactly how he operates, going back many years, ever since his daughter's life was drastically changed after she was hit by a truck. After the accident, her prognosis was grim. Doctors thought she would never awake from her coma, much less reach a stage where she can go to school. Yet, eventually her recovery reached the stage where she could receive care outside the hospital, and that is when Brogan's fight with education officials began.
In New York, the state paid for a special education private school, he said. Having built a home years earlier in Tampa, Bogan said he returned full-time and tried to get payment from Hillsborough for the Polk school.
He and the district disagreed on issues concerning Alexandria's testing, and whether Bogan followed the correct procedures. Investigators checked to see if he really lived in Tampa.
Although Kamleiter warns parents about crossing the line from advocate to bully, Veleria Fabiszak feels that it is lack of attentiveness from district officials that pushes parents so far. Her daughter Chelsea, who has a neurological disorder called Rhett syndrome, says that she is the only one who can speak for her because Chelsea herself is non-verbal. It's hard not to fight when her daughter gets back from school with a broken leg, and it requires numerous appearances at school board meetings before the district even investigates the causes of the injury.